Smokers who drop their used butts on the streets of a Central Coast town face $750 fines as the local council cracks down.
Council rangers in Port Stephens have been encouraged to enforce fines of between $60 and $750 for careless smokers as a priority in a bid to maintain the area’s environment and create vibrant town centres.
Mayor Bruce MacKenzie said Raymond Terrace’s main street was in the grip of an epidemic that had peppered the town’s public gardens and footpaths with spent cigarettes.
‘‘It just disappoints me to see that people are using our main shopping strip in Port Stephens as a rubbish tip,’’ Cr MacKenzie said.
‘‘I’ve taken a personal interest in this street [because] we want to be proud of our CBD but the fact is that this is costing us staff time and ratepayers’ money.
‘‘The only way that people stop speeding is if you fine them, so that’s what we’re doing here.’’
Discarding a stubbed-out smoke is a $60 offence while a lit cigarette draws a $200 penalty under the laws council rangers are targeting.
But a council spokeswoman said any cigarette that landed in a gutter – and potentially waterways – could cost up to $750 because it qualifies as pollution.
Cr Geoff Dingle backed the crackdown, arguing that a failure to preserve the area’s pristine waterways would hit the economy.
‘‘The people who drop cigarette butts hurt our tourism business,’’ Cr Dingle said.
‘‘People loathe coming to dirty, untidy destinations.’’
Cr Peter Kafer said he believed there were better measures to achieve the same result than fines, with only a small number of dedicated ‘‘butt bins’’ in William Street.
‘‘It needs a full grace period – they should caution people,’’ Cr Kafer said. ‘‘If the council is fair dinkum they will put more ‘butt bins’ in.’’
Keep Australia Beautiful national executive officer Peter McLean said figures showed cigarettes were the nation’s most common litter item, with roughly 28 found per square kilometre.
‘‘We’re talking about billions of butts,’’ he said.
Mr McLean applauded Port Stephens Council’s approach to cigarettes, saying it could only improve the area’s reputation as a pristine environmental playground.
He said birds and fish often mistook butts for food, with the rubbish also leaching into the soil in high-density gardens plagued by ‘‘cigarette butt mulch’’.
‘‘We’re at the other end of that food chain so it comes back to us,’’ he said.
‘‘There’s a lot of other councils around the country that aren’t as brave [as Port Stephens].’’
Embattled traders on warpath over smokers
Business owners in nearby Raymond Terrace have backed plans to stub out cigarettes littering the main street of the Port Stephens town.
But they are also calling for a broader war on rubbish to instil a pride of place in the Port Stephens township earmarked as its future residential hub.
Raymond Terrace Chamber of Commerce president Brett Fatches said making the town centre a clean and inviting area was something his members would support.
He said rangers focusing on penalising people who made the area less appealing was a step towards attracting people to town.
‘‘I don’t know about the imposition of fines but I like the idea,’’ Mr Fatches said.
‘‘[Cigarette butts littering streets] is definitely not a good look.’’
Red Eye Cafe owner Alan Williams said cigarettes were only part of the problem and were not a particular qualm for his customers.
But he said he and staff often started their weeks cleaning the path outside their William Street cafe after beer bottles and rubbish peppered the area over the weekend.
Mr Williams said cleaning up the main street was important to the town’s future but was hopeful cigarettes were just the first step.
‘‘I think there’s a problem with people littering in any way in Raymond Terrace,’’ Mr Williams said.
‘‘There’s a bit of a problem with people not respecting this town, there’s no pride.’’